Rocky Mountains holiday

January 23, 2014

wow!  a post about some actual travel!  he he he.

on saturday 21 december 2013 we finished packing our bags, which included a frustrating trip to a variety of shops trying to secure some ski pants and jackets for paul and i.  one would think these sorts of clothes would be sold at road side stalls, not to mention nearly every real store, in canada.  but not so.  perhaps because they are expensive items.  never mind we met with success in the end.

mid afternoon we drove to the crowne plaza airport hotel.  i’d found what i figured was a super deal that included a nite’s accommodation, free transfer to and from the airport and up to 22 days car parking for $79.  since a cab ride between our house and the airport is upward of $80 staying at the hotel looked very attractive, as it also saved us getting into a taxi at 4am, our flight being at 6:30am.  and on the way home we landed at midnite and getting into our own car was much more appealing than trying to cram into a taxi.

we were very lucky to get out of toronto as over nite was the beginning of the minus 40 ice storm that hit the city for the next week.  we were delayed so landed in calgary a few hours later than expected.  having a four hour flight was so much nicer than a ten or more hour one.  what a breeze!  following my strongly-worded exchange with enterprise car hire after a previous very disappointing and stupid hire, we picked up our head office booked hire car, at appeasingly reduced cost, with ease.

we spent the rest of the day looking about calgary.  on monday 23rd we enjoyed lunch in the revolving restaurant at the top of the calgary tower.  the sun was shining strongly and the view of the rocky mountains was incredible.  in the afternoon i was banished, with no explanation, from our hotel room, alone.  was very happy to sit in the sun in the lobby and read my new donna tart book.  (another top effort from a very talented author i will add.)

perhaps half an hour later percy arrived to summon me back.  clearly i knew something was about to happen for my birthday.  being the luddite i am it never occurred to me that that something would be a multiple skype call with some of my dearest friends from around the world!  big, big kudos to paul for arranging the correct cabling with the hotel prior to our arrival and working out the time differences to hook up with people in calgary (us), sydney, melbourne, brisbane, cardiff and den hague.  i cried.  best birthday present ever.

the following day we drove further west into the embrace of the towering rocky mountains.  rather than sticking to the main highway thru banff and on to lake louise we took the old, far more relaxed and scenic route.  absolutely amazing to drive thru dark, snow covered forests, ever on the look out for wolves and elk, sadly bears would be hibernating.  We stopped a couple of times to take photos and admire the frozen river.  Tally even got to make yellow hollows in the snow!  (not up to writing his name yet.)

Arriving at the fairmount chateau lake louise was a lot like arriving into a fairy tale.  it’s such an iconic canadian and mountain place; what person doesn’t know the image of the hotel standing on the moraine at the end of the glacial lake, and doesn’t also connect it to canada and the rockies?   i loved it.  if i had a bucket list, this would have been a very large tick off it.

into the two days we stayed at the chateau (had we been richer we probably would have stayed the full seven nites there, as it was the two nites cost as much as the five other nites, staying elsewhere, did combined) we crammed skating on the frozen lake louise, a horse sleigh (with jingle bells!) ride, our first gingerbread house making and decorating, tobogganing down the steep hill side towards the icy lake, delicious dinners, swimming in the indoor heated pool, extensive breakfasts, mug after mug of hot chocolates, mulled wine for paul, a quick chat with santa, opening presents, snowy walks in the forest and listening to and admiring the carollers in the lobby.  tho i think the electric train set in the lobby, running thru it’s little alpine village setting captured tally’s heart more than the singing.

after giving the credit card a heart attack we said farewell to lake louise and headed for banff.  but first a detour along the trans-canada highway and the icefield parkway.  perhaps percy and tally were starting to get a bit; “oh, another mountain?” bored but paul and i loved the crags and peaks and snow and forests.  the icefields parkway is rated as one of the most scenic drives in the world.  and in summer, if we had been going to jasper anyways we would have ooh-ed and ah-ed our way along it’s entire length.  but we were headed to banff, in the other direction, and in winter all the side roads to lakes, camp sites, walking trails and lookouts were closed.  unfortunately we couldn’t even get down to lake minnewanka.  apparently it is not pronounced that way.  we turned about and headed back…

our hotel/apartment in banff had a kitchen and a separate bedroom!  what money-saving luxuries.  we didn’t have to eat every meal out.  importantly i could read at bedtime with a door between the supposed-to-be-sleeping kids and us!  banff is a very attractive little town.  the main street and it’s feeders are filled with cafes and restaurants, galleries and gift shops.  all for the tourist market i’m sure but the locals would get the benefit in the low seasons.  paul said he would be quite content to move in permanently.  what with all the skiing, skating, paddling, hiking, exploring, horse riding, dining, mountain biking, rafting, fossicking, rock climbing… phew… to do, it would be a very outdoor and energetic place to live.  unfortunately i had to explain that it would be very unlikely that he would be allowed to buy a house there.  banff, being within a world heritage listed national park, has very strict rules about development and ownership.  for one you cannot buy a property there, you buy the house and lease the land it stands on; two, you cannot inherit a property in banff (i assume ownership of the house reverts to parks canada if someone dies) and three, kind of the clincher, you have to have a very good reason to live in banff- like you provide a service/business that no-one else does.  i’m not sure commercial property software development is so required in banff, given the lack of property owning companies headquartered there.

we went skiing at mount norquay on our first day in banff.  tally had a one hour lesson first up, after which paul, who declined a lesson, looked after him, while percy and i finished our two hour lessons.  i did ok, remembering sort of how it’s done and not falling over once.  i also lucked out (in?) that in my group lesson, only i turned up, essentially turning it into a cheap private lesson; with andre from norway whose been skiing since he was five, competitively since his teens.  i’m pretty much over my aversion to everyone younger than me being able to do everything better than me.  (bet he’d make a lousy town planner!)

after lunch tally just wasn’t keen on skiing.  never mind, it was his first time.  mount norquay lived up to its blurb of being family friendly accepting tally into the day care centre for the remainder of our skiing afternoon.  he had such a good time he kicked up a big fuss when it was time to leave.  meanwhile… paul scooted up and down the big runs while percy and i stuck to the beginner hill.  we would have had to buy an upgraded lift pass for percy and i and it didn’t seem worth it as we weren’t confident percy would ride the chair lifts happily (getting off always being harder than getting on) and i was happy to stay with her because she was actually being delightful, smiling and cheering and starting to get a bit zoomier with every run.  i’m so happy percy had a go and stuck to practicing at skiing.  not because i particularly want her to become an expert skier but because she often doesn’t want to stick to something.

the following day we paid a visit to the whyte museum of the canadian rockies in the morning and went dog sledding in the afternoon.  the whyte museum, while small i thought was quite good and informative.  shame percy and tally are still able to whip thru a museum at lightening speed and then get monumentally bored if the grown-ups are done with it too.  little shits!

our dog sledding company picked us up from the hotel at 1pm and drove us back and thru the town of canmore to lake… lake… (bugger, i’ve forgotten the name of the lake, something with a “sp”)  anyways, waiting there were over 50 dogs all yelping and barking at the top of their lungs!  yikes!  tally seemed a little shy.  fair enough too he wasn’t much taller than the dogs.  and while he likes dogs perhaps that many, making that much noise was a bit overwhelming for him.  not so percy!  as soon as we’d been assigned a musher and a team she was in patting and saying hi and getting in the way.  she helped put a couple of the dogs in their harnesses, all four of us bundled into one sled with, in my opinion, an inadequate comforter over the top of us.  paul sat at the back, me between his legs, percy between mine and tally at the front.  we were off!  it was awesome.  those dogs look a little scrawny to start with but they can pull.  a little eerily once the dogs start pulling they shut up.  swishing thru the forest, only the sleds runners making a susurration against the snow the magic of dog sledding becomes apparent.  how independent, how quiet, how quick… almost surreal.

to bring you back to reality, seven dogs, working hard, trussed to a sled, fart and shit a lot, right in your face!  pewwweeee!  ha ha ha.

not long after we started out we pulled up, percy climbed out and stood at the back with our musher.  he told her what to say to the dogs; we were off again.  on the uphills she jumped off and ran to help push.  awesome kid.  it became a bit of joke that whoever was mushing, paul and percy took turns (tal was too little, and i opted to stay with him) wasn’t pushing hard enough on the uphills.  “use your muscles, percy!”, “push harder, papa!”

our final day we took the banff gondola to the top of sansons peak to look out and get ripped off at lunch.  ridiculously expensive, crappiest buffet i’ve ever had.  lesson to always ask the price beforehand.  we figured our last holiday meal, let’s not squibble, let’s have a nice hot lunch.  what crap.  should have bought sandwiches at the café instead.

the gondola ride was exciting.  it’s pretty high off the ground and watching the support poles approach always brings butterflies to your stomach with the thoughts; “we’re not got to make that…” or “one strong puff of wind and we’ll fall right off this little bit of string.” (metal cable the thickness of my arm.)  at the top of sanson’s peak is a board walk to the 1903 built weather observatory and cosmic ray station.  peering thru the windows into the little hut, thru over a hundred years of time made me very thankful that i wasn’t a meteorologist back then, and that the gondola has since been built to ferry people and stuff to the top; no hiking for days to measure the wind speed and the temperature!

back down, back to the car, back to calgary.  paul had previously downloaded the ‘gypsy guide’ self guided tours for the routes we were taking.  we listened to the interesting tours thru the car sound system on the way up and back.  very clever idea those guides.

dumb gps took us the long way to the airport, via the most out of the way petrol station. (i’m sure you do already know, but never take a hire car back without a full tank of petrol.)  returned the now filthy car and headed into the airport, early.  early!  who arrives early for a flight?  it’s already bad and boring enough to wait around such long periods of time when you’re on time, never mind early.  but, as regularly happens, perc and tal found some other little kids waiting for their flight too.  toys were swapped and time was passed.  we flew home having missed the week long ice storm that hit toronto and left hundreds of thousands of people without heat or power for days.  the hotel transfer bus dropped us back at the crowne plaza and while i waited in the nice warm indoors with the luggage and the kids paul went out in freezing midnite temperatures to collect the car.  i’m a very poor ‘waiter’, paul of course had it worse being outside but i’m not much call for doing nothing.  i had envisioned the car would be covered in immovable ice, with a dead battery.  so with great relief, and quite quickly i’m sure too, i saw paul pull up outside.  yippee!  luggage, kids in, quick stop for milk and bread, home by 1:45am.

now for a nice long sleep in.  sssnnnooorrrrrrrre.   what’s that percy?  it’s morning?  santa was here while we were away?!  go back to bed…  yeah, right!

the thing about renting

January 8, 2014

is the impermanence of it.  particularly noticed when you’re at a stage in your life when you really want to make your house your home.  if you think there is a difference in those two terms.  there is for me; a house is a building, functional.  a home is a refuge and a gathering place.  it’s somewhere you really want and like to be and to have those you love in it and around it, with you.

as a teenager and a twenty-something renting wasn’t such a big deal.  it was temporary, my ‘stuff’ was limited and i moved to follow my jobs.  it was an adventure.  while i still find moving an adventure (just as well really, huh?) and i’m one of the few people that enjoys packing up all my belongings, trucking it elsewhere and setting it all up again, this is now tempered with the nesting desire that arrived with home ownership, and to a lesser extent, kids too.

owning a home means a lot to me.  it’s permanent, solid and personable.  the old cliché of ‘somewhere to hang your shingle’, carries quite a load for me.  perhaps i have a psychological need to call a place mine.  moving every two years until age twelve, then upping sticks at 16 again and moving even more regularly since then has left a mental mark and need on me.  the longest i’ve lived anywhere was the six years we owned our place on smiths lane.  that was the second home paul and i bought together.  our first place on lenna avenue, we put a few changes into, making it a home for us.  then smiths lane we modified a fair amount too.  as much as you can within the confines of a two bedroom strata-titled townhouse!

our place in oyster bay is unrecognisable from what we bought.  i estimate that around $80k of changes happened there in three years.  (and it’s still only a small two bedroom house!  what?!) kind of funny is that most of the expense and change are things we took away from the property- the masses of concrete mess in the back yard, the twelve tonnes of crap and rock out of the front yard, the 1950s bathroom and carpet, the 1960s tile and lino, the 1970s wallpaper and cupboards, the half a century of overgrown plants and weeds… all the blood, sweat and tears (literally) and the resultant home have made me quite fond of that place.  it’s quirky and annoying (not to mention the neighbours!) but it’s also ours to do with (almost) as we please.

that is the crux of the issue.  the house you rent is not one you can do with as you please.  it’s somebody else’s.  and anything you do to it won’t pay you back and won’t give you any long term benefit.  because you’ll be moving on.  there’s no home to be made because you can’t take it with you, you may even have to change it back when you move out.

as much as a i thought i was a city girl, i want to plant a garden.  but what’s the point?  doubly so here when it would be under snow for half the year.  still, some trees, shrubs, a hedge out the front and most definitely a vegie patch.  it would be awesome to keep chooks again too.  i know we could grow vegies and herbs in pots, indoors.  having killed everything that’s entered my home in a pot, but not those things planted in the ground, i’m dubious about this solution.  plus i’m really stumped how to keep things, including chickens, alive thru canadian winters.  our five pots of herbs is down to one very barely alive mint plant.  is it expected that new plants will have to be bought every spring?  so where do these new plants grow from?

secondly a home for me needs to have covered walls.  what’s a covered wall?  one that is hardly visible because of all the bookshelves and pictures and art on it.  it could quite possibly also be painted extraordinary colours.  it’s not practical to achieve covered walls in a rental house.

the third thing is the requirement for the possibility of change.  unless you fall in love with a design for a brand new house i can guarantee whatever existing house you buy won’t be perfect.  nothing that a sledgehammer and a nail gun can’t fix!  take for example this macmasion we’re in now.  it is a brand new house; we’re the first to live in it.  it was built to the lowest standard acceptable because it was always intended to be a rental, but should that excuse some major design faults?  1. an enormous kitchen by many measures that is frustratingly difficult to use- needs a pantry primarily. 2. in a three storey house with the laundry in the basement would a half square metre for a laundry chute have killed?  anyways, will not rumble on.  it’s a good, big house.  can’t ever see me calling something so poorly designed and sited ‘home’.

to be without a ‘home’ makes me feel, to a certain extent, that my life is on hold.  until i can reap the benefit of garden, covered walls, modifications, and most importantly laying down the welcome mat that i am confident of becoming well-worn, i don’t feel settled or content.

i need to figure out how to balance ‘being home’ with adventure chasing and taking refuge in our rental house.